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August 09, 2013

Cambodia Opposition Calls Troop Deployment ‘Intimidation’

by Robert Carmichael

Cambodia’s opposition says the government’s decision to deploy soldiers to the capital Phnom Penh is a clear case of intimidation. The move comes more than a week after the July 28 general election - which both the ruling party and the opposition claim to have won.

The Cambodian government has deployed troops to Phnom Penh, claiming they are needed in order to deal with any violence in the event of opposition protests over the election result.

Local media reported that security forces, numbering in the hundreds, were ordered to the capital late Thursday. However the government would not comment on numbers.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, condemned the decision to send troops. “This is a threat and intimidation to the people that is illegal,” he said.

The government’s decision follows nearly two weeks of disagreement between the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition over a commission to investigate alleged electoral irregularities.

Yim Sovann insisted the opposition did not want violence, and said peaceful protest was the last resort should agreement on the commission not be reached.

“We, the CNRP, are looking for a peaceful solution to the problem - especially our stance to form a special commission to do the investigation and to solve the problem peacefully,” he said.

Cambodian security forces have a long history of partiality towards Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan said Friday that people had nothing to fear. The deployment, he said, came about partly in response to the opposition’s anti-Vietnamese comments, which he said could lead to violence.

During campaigning the opposition was criticized by rights groups and others for employing anti-Vietnamese rhetoric in a bid to appeal to those Cambodians mistrustful of their more powerful neighbour.

“The government has an obligation to make law and order in the city as well on the streets as well as respect the ordinary people, the way of their life. That’s our job, but we wish that all political parties will take care of their business peacefully in the office as well as in the National Assembly rather than urge innocent people onto the street - it doesn’t help,” said the spokesman.

Phay Siphan said security forces would remain in place in the capital until the results of the election were officially confirmed next month.

Both parties claim that they won the July 28 ballot, in which the opposition stunned the ruling party with a strong showing. 

The CNRP has since insisted on an independent commission to investigate what it claims was widespread electoral fraud, and says the National Election Committee, which has responsibility for managing the vote, cannot be trusted to act independently of the ruling party.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is currently in the United States, has asked the United Nations to get involved in the investigation. 

Yim Sovann said a meeting Friday between the ruling party and the opposition had seen some progress.

“The outcome is both delegations from both parties go back to discuss with their top leaders to discuss about the composition of the special committee. And second point that we agree that U.N. should be the observers,” he said.

But he added that it was too early to say whether the opposition’s leaders would accept the deal.